Sports Drinks: Do we need them?

15 Jun Sports Drinks: Do we need them?

The marketers have done a great job convincing us that we ‘need’ sports drinks, like Gatorade and Powerade, to sufficiently hydrate ourselves and to maintain peak performance. Millions of dollars are spent reinforcing this message. But, is it true? More importantly – are they healthy for you? Research shows that after 1 hour of intense training, athletes can deplete their electrolyte and glycogen stores. However, for the average individual running 3-5 miles or doing a 45 minute spin class, the 100+ calorie, sugar laden beverage, may negatively impact the calorie burn you just achieved during your workout! And, for those doing even less exercise……

Read the label

The ingredient list in a sports drink may cause concern.

Orange Flavored Gatorade: Water, Sugar, Dextrose (sugar), Citric Acid, Natural Flavor, Salt, Sodium Citrate, Monopotassium Phosphate, Gum Arabic, Sucrose Acetate Isobutyrate, Glycerol Ester Of Rosin, Yellow 6.

Orange Flavored Powerade: Water, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Less than 0.5% of: Citric Acid, Salt and Potassium Citrate and Magnesium Chloride and Calcium Chloride and Potassium Phosphate (Electrolyte Sources), Gum Acacia, Natural Flavors, Glycerol Ester Of Rosin, Yellow 6, Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine Hydrochloride), Vitamin B12, Ascorbic Acid (to protect taste), Calcium Disodium EDTA (to protect color).

Several items on the ingredient list I prefer to avoid: sugar, high fructose corn syrup, artificial colors, synthetic additives, GMOs and preservatives. Both of these drinks have over 12 grams of sugar per 8 ounces and more than 28 grams (7 teaspoons) in a 20 ounce bottle. The latest World Health Organization recommendation is no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day for adults – and the 20 ounce Gatorade or Powerade exceeds that!


The good news is the first ingredient on both lists is water – which is necessary for hydration. The best way to avoid dehydration from exercise is to drink 4-8 ounces of water before exercising, drink 4 ounces of water every 15 minutes during exercise and drink 16-24 ounces of water after exercise for each pound lost.

For a workout less than 1 hour, plain water is probably sufficient. If you feel the need for a pick-me-up, another option is a solid food – like raisins or bananas – which also regulate electrolytes and provide an energy boost. During an intense workout, less blood flows to the stomach which can make digestion more difficult, so a liquid pick-me-up may be better.

Make it healthier

If you prefer to avoid the added sugar, colors, synthetic additives and preservatives found in commercial sports drinks, why not make your own? My favorite option is coconut water, sea salt and fruit juice to make my own tasty and effective sports drink. Click here for the recipe. Another option is to make your own lemonade with coconut water. Click here for recipe. Both of these drinks replenish our electrolyte and glycogen stores without added sugar or artificial additives, contain antioxidants and phytonutrients as well as natural (vs. synthetic) vitamins and minerals from the coconut water and fruit juice, like vitamins B & C and magnesium. A study published in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology and Applied Human Science, showed that sodium enriched coconut water was just as effective as a commercial sports drink for total body re-hydration. Believe it or not, a 14 ounce serving of coconut water has as much potassium as 2 bananas!

The next time you reach for a sports drink, think about whether or not you ‘need’ it or if regular water will suffice. If not, try one of the homemade versions provided above!

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  • Lynne
    Posted at 16:12h, 09 September

    Thank you for the revelation on the sports drink…I’d go for the recipe on coconut water anytime…of course water is the best!!! Great!!!

  • Debbie
    Posted at 10:45h, 07 October

    Can you provide your perspective on Advocare’s sports drink, Rehydrate. It seems like a healthier version, ie less sugar but uses sucralose and lots of ingredients.

    • pswadmin
      Posted at 20:55h, 03 November

      Hi Debbie! Thanks for your question. I agree with you on the long ingredient list: Pure crystalline fructose, dextrose, maltodextrin, malic acid, Sustamine™ (L-Alanyl-L-Glutamine), sodium citrate, potassium citrate, sodium chloride, ascorbic acid, calcium lactate, potassium chloride, L-arginine, beta carotene, magnesium citrate, sucralose, chromium citrate complex, niacinamide, pyridoxine hydrochloride, calcium d-pantothenate, riboflavin, thiamine hydrochloride, d-calcium pantothenate, chromium citrate

      The first 2 ingredients: fructose and dextrose are both sugars and there is sucralose, artificial sugar, as you mention. Thus, my preference would be coconut water with some added sea salt. They have some synthetic nutrients added which could provide some benefit if they are absorbed by your body, but the potassium in coconut water and the sodium in sea salt are natural nutrients, rather than the synthetic form and generally better absorbed. Thus, my personal preference is the option with more whole ingredients! Hope that helps.

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